How satisfactory are the various accounts put forward regarding the causes of War

Generalisations about the causes of war are a very difficult thing to do. No two wars are exactly the same, they are between different countries, over different issues and are started in different ways using different technology, so to try to find common causes is always going to be difficult. In order for any explanation to be satisfactory, it must answer the three basic questions; “What is happening? Why is it happening? How can it be improved? In this essay I will firstly establish how a theory can be examined, I will then explain the main theories of the causes of war using one writer who best sums up each theory.

The theories I will examine are; Realism, Idealism, Marxism and the Psychological approach. The writers I shall use are; Von Clausewitz, Wright, Lenin and Huxley. I will then explain some of the problems of each theory and judge how satisfactory each one is. War is essentially to be taken in this essay as “Purposive armed conflict between two or more states where people are killed and things are damaged. ” K.

N Waltz argued that for any theory about international relations to be relevant, it had to address the problem at three levels; the individual; the state; and the systems level (the systems level being the existence of an international structure which creates a difference between intention and outcome). The interaction among these three levels produces an effect and to ignore any one level results in reductionism and so creates an incomplete theory. Taking this idea I shall address each of the theories using this tool to further judge how satisfactory the causes of war are. The first theory to be dealt with is Realism.

This is best shown by Von Clausewitz who embodies the twentieth realist notion that “war is a mere continuation of policy by other means” He has a pessimistic view of humans and saw world politics similar to that of the Hobbesian state of nature. He argues that “War is an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfil our will. ” Wars are fought by states to gain an objective. There is nothing unusual about a war, it is merely a political instrument to compel others to fulfil a will. The leaders give the political objective for the war, but the people must be of the necessary calibre to wage the war.

This calibre must then be transferred into the Army and commanded by the General. Von Clausewitz argues that failure to address the three areas of; the state, the army, and the government in any theory will leave the theory defunct as it is not extensive enough. Because each political objective at the beginning of the war is different and the type of people existing in the affected states change over time, each war is unique in its, objectives and outcome. Von Clausewitz acknowledges that war will not always occur as anticipated by his theory. He states that the significance of the objective of the potential war plays an important role.

A small objective may be easily attained or the state will be more prepared to give up in its pursuit. The object determines the original motive; the aim of the military force (against whom war is raged upon); and the amount of effort made to gain the objective. If the two states are already antagonistic towards each other, the political objective need not be so big to cause a war – it may even be an excuse for the war. Von Clausewitzs’ analysis has been described as “The first study of war that truly grapples with the fundamentals of the subject. It however can be criticised in a number of ways.

Using Waltzs’ three images, Von Clausewitz concentrates on only the first two levels. He completely ignores the international system and it is here where the theory can be seen to be lacking. Because the international system is ignored the theory does not take account for the difference in intention and outcome of a war. A state entering a war for a political objective is unlikely to attain it because during the course of the war the objective will either change or be forgotten, therefore there is no need to fight the war.

At the state level, the technical advancement of armaments seems to have rendered his argument dysfunctional. Wars now are far less likely to occur between states which must now consider the relatively modern concept of ‘total war’ or are either advanced in warfare technology or thought to be in possession of nuclear weapons. The use of the final phase in politics seems far less likely when it is considered that the almost inevitable end of it is mass destruction for both sides. At the first level, Von Clausewitz seems to believe that humans have a natural disposition towards violence, something which is deeply contended by many theorists.

The willingness of individuals to participate in war out of loyalty to the country or leader is a puzzle (as I will show later, this is what Huxley attempted), but it does not mean that humans are biologically violent. The 1986 Seville Statement said; `”It is scientifically incorrect to say that we have inherited a tendency to make war from our ancestors…. that war or any other violent behaviour is genetically programmed into our human nature…. that humans have a violent brain. ” Von Clausewitz seems to romanticise war, he sees it as a natural phenomenon.

This in itself may not be a natural failing of the theory, after all it is a normative judgement. But it leads the theory not to answer the third key question ‘How can it be improved? ‘ It seems that the sentiments of Von Clausewitz is that it cannot be improved and this leads to an unsatisfactory theory. He seems to have a narrow vision of what war is. He is mainly concerned with land warfare between two congruent sovereign states with the main political objective being the gain of territory. This obviously effects the way the theory develops and it seems a more general view would have altered the theory.

Probably, the fundamental difference would be that states go to war as an extension of politics would have been adapted to accommodate countries which have little contact but still go to war. Von Clausewitzs’ theory is therefore unsatisfactory, it deals with a narrow – dated view of fighting wars and the causes likewise. The technological advancement of the world since his time of writing and the increased awareness of a third level of structure means that his theory has large gaps which cause the whole thing to become unsatisfactory.

Quincy Wright offers an idealist theory of the causes of war. He largely holds that the main cause of war is at the third level. He sees peace as an equilibrium among many forces in the international system. Any change in the equilibrium may cause war. This period of dis-equilibrium he terms ‘political lag’. Political lag is “an outstanding cause of war in contemporary civilisation. ” Political lag occurs when states interact with each other and technological, cultural and political advancement alter the relationship and the states begin to compete for power.

When the “World government has not developed sufficiently to adjust by peaceful procedures the conflict situations which have arisen,” a war is more likely to occur. Wright further argued at the second level, that conflict increased in severity but decreased in frequency as the size of the state increased geographically until the state was the same size as the civilisation (the nation state). War will not occur within the state, it will however occur between two similar states until these two states are joined together to form one larger state.

Wright argues that sovereignty is the first cause of war. Sovereignty existing within a state will ease tensions as the state attempts to change to internal advancements, but external tensions are increased as the state successfully changes and the state seeks power “International relations become a state of nature. ” War is ceased if two states are under the same rule of sovereignty. This change in sovereignty has been evident through history, from city-state to empire and so forth. It “has assured order, justice, and peace in larger areas and has increased mans’ control of his environment.

It seems that Wright is implying that to eradicate war, all similar states must join together or be dominated by one in the form of an empire. However, he continues to analyse the causes of war at the first level. Here he sees nationalism as the strongest motivation, it allows individuals to identify with a group and fight for its survival. Nationalism creates cultural solidarity, but in a state which is too large it breaks down into regionalism. He therefore concludes that in the international system to stop war, a federation of many states must exist, not an empire.

To end war, according to Wright the international system must control the states in a federal system, allowing them to sort out grievances in non violent ways. The main criticisms of this theory are that it is an elaborate description of war at the second level; as sovereignty moves to a larger state, any war which occurs internally is called civil war and so excluded from analysis. This is just redefining the terms and not an explanation. Historically, the setting up of world legal institutions have given disconfirming results or put more simply, they have not worked as effectively as they could have.

They seem to show that courts were irrelevant and states’ commitments were meaningless. The whole theory rests on the idealist notion that a compromise is always possible between states and a Leviathan style world government would abolish war. This is a debatable point and the whole theory can be rejected if this assumption is not taken. If this assumption is taken, it does appear that the theory is slightly more satisfactory than Von Clausewitz but for the criticisms already given, it remains unsatisfactory. The third approach is that of Marxism and characterised by the writings of Lenin.

Lenin argued that the exploitation of the bourgeoisie by the proletariat creates surplus value. This surplus value is reinvested in the economy to generate greater income for the bourgeoise. Eventually all the markets in the state will reach saturation point and the money will have to be invested in foreign states. This is dangerous as the money could be easily lost, therefore Lenin argued that the capitalists with the money encourage the state to annex foreign lands and become an Imperial state so money can be safely invested for a greater return.

As states gain ‘periphery’ states or colonies they compete with other ‘core’ states or imperialists to gain and maintain land. The country the state wishes to colonise may be very far away or be congruent to it, as Lenin states, “The characteristic feature of imperialism is precisely that it strives to annex not only agricultural regions, but even highly industrialised regions (German appetite for Belgium: French appetite for Lorraine). ” Considering Lenins’ thesis, the way to eradicate war is to eradicate the inherently aggressive system of capitalism and replace it with communism.

Those theories which argue against Lenin are the liberal economic theorists. They argue that free trade is essential to create any form of profit and any kind of war “interferes with trade, blocks profit, destroys property, causes inflation, consumes scarce resources and encourages big government and counter productive regulation of business activity. ” They further point to wars which have occurred where a communist state has been the aggressor, “Of sixty-one conflicts of the 1945-1967 period, socialist systems participated in fifteen – approximately twenty-five percent.

This is compared to the fact that only approximately fifteen percent of all economies had socialist economies. ” They point to examples such as the Soviet Union invading Afghanistan in 1979; North Korea invading the South in 1950; and China attacking Tibet in 1959. This shows that empirically, socialist or communist states are not inherently nonaggressive. D. K. Fieldhouse attempted to evaluate Lenins’ theory of imperialism and therefore the causes of war.

He showed that the theory did not hold up to empirical testing, for example; new colonies were not invested in; The United States was receiving the most exports and it was not a colony; and Japan and Russia were importing from their colonies. He drew the conclusion that Lenin was very wrong. To summarise, Lenins’ theory of the causes of war is false. It does not stand up to any kind of testing and so must be deemed as unsatisfactory. Aldous Huxley offers a psychological theory of the causes of war. Huxley was largely concerned with the views of non-combatants, those not directly involved in the war.

He argues that “War exists because people wish it to exist. ” War exists because people find peacetime boring; during wartime, nationalistic sentiments give meaning to peoples’ lives, this, Huxley argues is shown by the drop in suicide rates. Huxley further argued that at the state level, it is the actions of political leaders who should be examined. Psychologically, political leaders will build up their own armaments as a defensive precaution to attack. Other states will view this as a potential threat and will do so likewise. This leads to a perpetual building up of arms as each state becomes increasingly wary of other states.

Huxley argues that in such a situation of fear and suspicion, war is inevitable, “In such an atmosphere, any dispute easily becomes envenomed to the point of being made a casus belli. ” Other motives include; ideological reasons, enhancing the states power; The glory of a victorious leader and nation; Distraction of a nation by the elite from the domestic situation; Economic motives, the desire for land and raw materials; Imperialism and the enlargement of export markets; and finally the pursuit by politically powerful minorities within each nation of their own interests, for example Arms manufacturers.

Huxley sees the end of war by doing two things, firstly the state needs to heighten individuals tasks in society – that is make their lives more interesting. Secondly, give individuals a heightened purpose of life and value peacetime activities so that they stop desiring war. In terms of answering the three key questions, Huxley does attempt to give an answer, however it appears that they are the wrong ones.

Three key criticisms can be made; Firstly, that people wish war to exist can be criticised by stating the presence of structure creating a gap between intention and outcome means that is possible for a war to occur when nobody wishes it. Secondly, the perceived belief that people possess a heightened sense of value during war time can be seen to be not always true, especially with the phenomena of civilian bombing and ethnic cleansing. Thirdly, the use of Durkheims’ suicide data could be argued to be a spurious correlation. The use of the data in Huxleys’ work is quite vague and not testable.

Other reasons could be given for the drop in suicide numbers during war time, for example, all the likely suicide cases have joined the army and are fighting the war. This theory is essentially a first and to a small extent second level theory. It pays scant regard to the international system which would change the theory about non-combatants wishing war. Therefore, Huxley is a highly unsatisfactory account of the generalisations of the causes of war. Generalisations about the causes of war are a very difficult thing to theorise about.

In order for a theory to be satisfactory it must answer the three basic questions; “What is happening? Why is it happening? How can it be improved? ” The theory must also address three levels as identified by Waltz or suffer from reductionism and deemed as too trivial, the levels are; the individual level; the state level; and the international level. If a theory does not address all of these criteria it becomes less satisfactory. The four theories examined were Realism, Idealism, Marxism and the Psychological approach.

Each of the theories gave a basic answer to the first question, however, it seems that only Wright was able to come to any realistic conclusion about the second question; each of the other writers fell down at this point for factual or theoretical inadequacies. Except for Von Clausewitz, three writers offered solutions to war which all seemed quite infeasible, for example, Wright saw the impostion of a strong World government as the solution; Lenin saw the abolition of capitalism as the answer whilst Huxley felt that changes in peoples’ esteem would stop war.

It seems that Wrights’ arguments were the most convincing because it was the one which could be criticised the least. Von clausewitz also gave a convincing argument but ultimately failed due to reductionism. Both Lenin and Huxley gave very unsatisfactory accounts of the causes of war simply because they are not empirically true and theoretically weak.